Compared to everywhere else in Central America, Costa Rica is very expensive. With this in mind we decided to travel through quite quickly. As Dom’s ankle was still giving her trouble, we decided against the big national parks where hiking would be the main activity. We would head to the Caribbean coast via Santa Elena & Monte Verde, and San Jose.
After crossing the border we got on a bus and headed for a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. We had read about it on a blog on the Internet but information about its whereabouts were pretty limited. Thankfully the bus driver knew where it was and so we got there with no dramas.
After a wait of about an hour in the middle of nowhere, we boarded bus two of two and made our way up the winding roads to Santa Elena.
Santa Elena & Monte Verde
Although I have never been to Colorado, I imagine it is what Santa Elena is like. A picturesque town in the mountains with a fairly low temperature. I didn’t feel like we were in Central America anymore. There were obvious signs of wealth and customer service actually existed. Our first port of call was our hostel which turned out to be excellent. Next up was a restaurant which disappointed before stopping at a hugely expensive supermarket. Food in Costa Rica was to be expensive and mostly average.
Our first full day was spent hiking through a forest. Up until now we had been spoiled with our wildlife walks. They were usually cheap and full of wildlife. Our first taste here was expensive and apart from a few birds we didn’t see anything exciting. To save money we hitched back to our hostel.
There were only two buses a day that went to our next destination, San Jose. One was at 6:30 am and one at 2:00pm. Not wanting to miss our free breakfast at the hostel, which incidentally was amazing, we opted for bus number two.
Dom had applied for a job and was asked to complete some writing activities, and so she spent her time doing that. I caught up on a bit of reading and we both took full advantage of the free coffee. Probably not the best idea with a seven hour bus journey ahead of us but hey ho.
We arrived in the capital about 8:00pm and got a taxi to the hostel we were staying at. Our stay in San Jose would be short and sweet. Our journey to our next destination, Tortuguero, would start at 6:00 am the next day. The journey was a long one and would consist of two buses and a boat.
After dropping our bags off we headed out for some food and a beer. We again had some below average food and as the coffee had now worn off, we went back to the hostel to sleep off our disappointment.
Our selfish room mates woke me up at 3:00am when they got up to leave. For some reason they thought it was normal to switch the lights on and talk loudly for half an hour or so before heading out of the door. I couldn’t get back to sleep so got out of bed at 5:30, showered and woke Dom up. Once she had gotten herself ready at less than half the volume of our noisy neighbours, we headed to the bus terminal.
I slept for most of the first bus journey and woke myself up with a coffee when we arrived at the bus stop of our first change. The second bus journey was slow and uneventful, but we did buy some amazing food at some point during the ride.
Next up was a boat. Boats are always way much more fun and we grinned all the way down the river. We also saw a Jesus Christ lizard running on the water. Pretty sweet.
On arriving we found our hostel and went out in search of some cheap food. Being in the middle of nowhere, in a town only accessible by boat, they kinda have you by the balls when it comes to prices, and we couldn’t find anywhere that was truly backpacker friendly. We spoke to a man selling crafts and he assured us that around 2:00 pm, the stall-holder next to him sells street food. This brightened our mood and so we explored for a bit and returned at 2:00. No sign of the man but no worries. This is Central America and this is how they roll. No sign of him an hour later and my stomach started to panic. Still we sat there. More time passed and the man still hadn’t shown up and so we headed to a restaurant and ordered two massive bowls of seafood soup. It was pricey but worth it and as it was pretty much dinner time at this point, we kinda saved money by only having to buy one meal.
Once it got dark we hit the beach in search of nesting turtles. Shortly after stumbling around in the dark however, we were told to leave the beach by one of the patrol guards. Apparently you are not allowed on the beach after dark unless you fork out $20 and pay for a guide.
We had another early start and again we were going on a boat. This time it was a wildlife spotting tour and it couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. Within five minutes we were sat below a tree watching a sloth lazily crawl between branches. This was one of the main reasons we had come here and we were rewarded pretty quickly. We also saw a caiman, loads of monkeys, lizards and birds. If the tour started well, it finished badly. The Heavens opened and we were subjected to torrential rain for about half an hour.
After the tour we again nailed some free coffee. Costa Rica is not friendly 0n the wallet and so we took advantage of free stuff whenever we could. Even if that meant ruining the chance to go back to bed for a well needed nap.
Later that evening we managed to accidentally see some turtles. We went for a walk in the national park and thanks to spotting a troop of howler monkeys overhead in clear view, we stayed longer than anticipated and before we knew it, nightfall greeted us. We left the jungle when the sun went down and walked along the beach towards our hostel. it was then that we saw these giant creatures. Due to the darkness we didn’t see them lay eggs but it was still an incredible experience. Sloths, monkeys and massive fucking turtles all in one day. Excellent.
Puerto Viejo De Talamanca
Another early start and another gruelling journey. We had one more look on the beach to see if there were any turtles that were late to the party. There wasn’t and so we threw some coffee down our throats and headed to catch our boat. Our boat trip turned out to be good again as this time we saw a dolphin. After a slow start to seeing wildlife in Costa Rica, we were now seeing some amazing stuff close up.
It was a further six hours and three buses before we arrived at our destination. Our place of stay was a jungle lodge which had an outside bedroom and only cost $10 per night. Bargain. It ended up costing a little more than that though as I forgot to give the keys back and as they do not have addresses or a proper postal service, I had to pay for them to change the locks. Bummer!
After a little explore we stumbled upon the best food we had eaten in Costa Rica and possibly the cheapest too. Shattered we hit the hay for a sleepless night. Although we hardly slept it was enjoyable to lay in bed and listen to the sounds of the jungle all night.
Our first full day saw us hire bikes and cycle to a jaguar rescue centre. There we saw snakes, sloths, birds, a croc, deers, a wildcat and loads of monkeys. It was a cool place and it was nice to see the animals are all cared for before being released back into the wild. Next up was a spot of lunch at our recently found roadside diner before a cycle to the next town. The next town was about 6km away along a country road lined with jungle. It was an amazing ride and our destination was pretty cool too. We stopped at the beach to look for evidence of turtle activity and then cycled a short distance up the road and went for a stroll in the jungle.
Our day out was so much fun that we decided to stay an extra night. Sadly, the next morning we were told by our host that there was no room to stay and so with heavy hearts and light wallets we packed our bags and hitched to the bus terminal. Costa Rica was expensive but worth every penny.